A View From the Stalls, December 2015

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, provides personal musings about his cinema experiences.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but there is a bit of a battle going on in our cinemas at the moment.

I am not talking about those scenes in the final Harry Potter or the carnage central to each of the Lord of the Ring films, rather the one that I am currently waging from the comfort of my cinema seat.

I see myself as a man of peace but, when the lights go down and the main feature begins, peace is what I crave.

Don’t misunderstand me, we all lead busy and important lives but do we need to check our emails on our phones during the film? Similarly unless your job is a film critic and you are too close to your deadline do you really need to post your thoughts on the film we are all trying to watch?

I recall one surreal moment sat across the aisle from two older women who proceeded to give a running commentary throughout the thriller playing before us. ’Ooh she’s got a knife’ followed by ‘he doesn’t know she’s there?' ‘She’s going to stab him,’ and so it went on. I can cope with subtitles but in audio?  And anyway the film was in English.

Of course there are some interruptions that rather than detract, actually enhance the film. One such occasion was at the showing of Behind the Candelabra at the Greenwich Playhouse.  The first thing I noticed was that the audience demographic was above 60 and predominantly female.

The film lived up to the reviews with Michael Douglas clearly relishing his role as Liberace. There followed a fairly graphic sex scene between Lee Liberace and his young lover Scott and I worried that some of the audience may find this challenging. In the post coital chat Liberace declares to Scott that he always dreamed of having a son to which one of the older ladies in the audience declared quite loudly ‘ well you won’t get one like that love’ to guffaws from the audience.

Two other ladies provided more unintentional humour at a recent showing of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl The film, if you haven’t seen it yet, is about three older teenagers coming to terms with mortality in a coming of age scenario. (Highly recommended film but I am trying to avoid spoilers). Not surprisingly the film is very moving but this did not put off the two people behind me whispering loudly and rustling their food supplies which seemed copious in the extreme.

So engrossed in the film I had refrained from my usual tactic of loud sighing followed by emphatic shushing and, for once, I was glad that I had. Towards the end of the film and at a point that I will only describe as emotionally draining I heard one of the elderly ladies behind me explaining that she had to go to the lavatory. There followed a strange rustling in the row behind accompanied by my seat being pulled backwards causing me to turn my face from the screen. One lady was struggling to get out of her seat whilst her friend with both hands on her companion’s bottom pushed for all she was worth amidst much laughter. ‘Push me up Gert push me up’ she exhorted her friend between giggles.

More recently I was watching the powerful Suffragette that showed in grim detail the reality of the lives of women in the early part of the last century. One of the more harrowing scenes shows a woman in prison being force fed and it may possible have been more harrowing had the woman in the row behind not chosen that moment to extract a crinkle foil wrapped toffee from its crackling bag and then offer them along to what seemed like the entire row. Hardly solidarity with the sisters I thought, though given the subject matter I decided that, in this case, discretion was the better part of valour.

Food seems a particular bête noir of mine and I subscribe to the Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode Code of Conduct (If you have not come across this do please look it up) which explains that even at their longest running time one is unlikely to starve in your seat without the protection of regular and noisy sustenance.

The standard set by the code is that nothing should be consumed in the cinema if it is louder than a soft roll filled with marshmallows.  At the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley there is a sign explaining to would be purchasers that crisps are too loud to be taken into the auditorium.

And whilst I am on the subject for those without even a rudimentary knowledge of biology if you have one or two pints of beer (or coke) you are likely to need the lavatory before the end of the film so DON’T SIT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROW.

And now that I am on a roll, what is it with people staking out their territory? Coats, bags, buckets of coke all used to block anyone trying to get by or heaven forefend sit next to them. We have all paid for one seat, move up.

As such violations of etiquette seem to be getting more frequent I have developed a range of responses. A mild tut is followed by a harsh stare and if necessary a sniff. Should this fail I am not above the odd shush and on one occasion a ‘Shut up’.

They say that as you get older one turns into one’s parents and I can recall my youthful embarrassment when my mother would turn around and remonstrate with the person kicking the back of her seat. I realise now that I owe her an apology.

So the battle lines are drawn and I do not intend to take any prisoners. Let me enjoy the film in peace, and I mean PEACE!